SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Is it October yet? The damning, campaign-squashing surprises that send US presidential candidates to their doom traditionally break in the month before the election, but Mitt Romney is facing a monumental challenge now.
A series of undeniable gaffes in recent weeks, including leaked video footage that shows Romney dismissing 47 percent of the American public as government-dependent "victims," has rocked his campaign in the run-up to election day on November 6, analysts say.
The secret video, published by liberal magazine Mother Jones and which also shows Romney telling donors that Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace" with Israel, has some pundits and critics already writing Romney's political obituary.
It is the most trouble the Republican nominee has had in conveying his message during his campaign against President Barack Obama, and the incumbent has seized on the footage to claim that Romney does not have the credibility to be commander-in-chief.
"One of the things I learned as president is you represent the entire country. If you want to be president, you have to work for everyone," Obama said Tuesday at a taping of the "Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS.
Romney was already trailing slightly in the polls, and the question is whether or not he can steady a listing ship in order to make a viable challenge for the White House.
Conservative pundit Erick Erickson, editor of RedState blog, warned that if the election were held now, Obama would win.
"The fact is the Romney campaign isn't functioning well," he wrote Monday. "Like it or not, spin it or not, put your head in the sand or not... the very simple truth is that Mitt Romney has failed to close any deal with the voters and his message is so muddled no voter really knows what they are getting."
With 49 days to go, Romney is far from where he wants to be. He enjoyed little to no bounce from the Republican convention late last month, and his economic message is falling flat with independent voters.
Obama sounded acutely aware of his rival's vulnerabilities when he unleashed a bit of braggadocio Monday, telling supporters in the must-win state of Ohio that "I like to walk the walk, not just talk the talk" when dealing with China on trade disputes.
Romney by contrast has been on the back foot, a multimillionaire former governor of Massachusetts who is fighting the image that he is out of touch with everyday voters.
In the video taken at a Florida fundraiser, Romney describes many poorer Americans as essentially freeloaders who will vote for the president "no matter what."
"There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it," he says.
Romney acknowledged late Monday that his remarks were "not elegantly stated," but he made no apology, stressing he was mapping out his "political process" for winning the White House.
The Romney campaign scrambled to downplay the crisis Tuesday, with advisor Bay Buchanan telling CNN that the video marked a "bump in the road."
Analysts were less charitable.
"I suspect it will not go away," Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, told AFP.
"It's a big deal because it reinforces an impression that he lives in a world of the wealthy, that he has little empathy for those unlike himself, and that his policies favor the winners in a tough economy and growing equality."
Romney has sought to paint Obama's economic policies as failing to create jobs, promote the middle class and lift Americans out of poverty, and has argued that his own platform of lower taxes, less regulation for small businesses and a tighter hand on federal spending purse strings will benefit more Americans.
Has Romney's video comments sent his campaign into a tailspin?
"No, but he is the clear underdog," Mann said.
Clyde Wilcox, a professor of government at Georgetown University, said the video clips could impact the race down the road, but Romney "has time to recover."
"All kinds of things can happen. And many of the people who are already committed to Romney would agree with those things he was saying," he said.
Romney doubled down Tuesday on key premises of his controversial comments, mainly that government should not be in the business of providing handouts.
"We all believe that when people are distressed, when they need help, we give them temporary help. We pull them back up, but we don't believe in redistribution," Romney told about 1,000 donors at a fundraiser in Salt Lake City.
America should never be "a place where it's easier to get a federal subsidy than it is to get a job," he added.
"We measure success not by how many people have to be on welfare and getting unemployment and getting food stamps," he said, but by how many get off such programs by earning their own way.
Senior Romney advisor Kevin Madden put a brave face on the situation, saying the candidate is remaining "focused" on getting out his economic message.
"It's a close, hard-fought campaign and it will be until election day," he added.